“Mah Jongg is an old lady game.”
I tried to block out those words as I carried the small red suitcase of tiles to my first lesson. I had fully assumed I wouldn’t like it, but honestly, once I understood the whole “crack bam dot” business, it was a blast. Challenging, fast moving and competitive, all of the qualities I like best in a game.
“So I like Mah Jongg,” I told myself, “doesn’t mean I’m old.”
Then came the Danielle Steel novels. My kids and I were at the library and I had to choose my books while simultaneously making sure they didn’t put their hands in the newly-installed waterfall (easier said than done since the librarian had already warned me once after catching them in the act). Wanting something light and mindless that I knew I could read on the beach, I chose Danielle Steel (my book club would be horrified). That was the day I realized I’m not only getting old–I am turning into my mother-in-law.
I’m sure this is something most people would be afraid to say. There’s a certain stigma mothers-in-laws carry and as the mom of two boys, I’m not real happy about that. They’re thought of as overbearing, afraid to let go, meddling…I could keep going. As some of my younger friends are getting married, they like to fill me in with all the “crazy” things their mother-in-laws do. And, while I’m being honest, I can remember feeling that my mother-in-law, Ellen, and I were pretty different when I started dating my now-husband.
But, in the almost three years since she died, I’ve started to notice we are more alike than I could have ever imagined. Sometimes during an annoying, but not life-threatening situation, I catch myself thinking “just a bump in the road”–something Ellen often said. When that happens, I’m reminded of the time we were newlyweds and had a massive pipe burst on the top floor of our three-story townhouse, completely ruining everything below. We had lived in the perfect, updated place for just one month before that happened. I stood outside our townhouse crying in disbelief. Ellen walked over, rubbed my arm, and said, “This is just a bump in the road. That’s all it is. A bump in the road.”
At the time I thought she was being insensitive. But as years have passed and we’ve unexpectedly, and sometimes unwillingly, learned how precious and fragile life really is, I know she was right. That was truly just a bump in the road.
Recently, a friend’s son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My husband, also a type 1 diabetic, was diagnosed as a young child as well. Thinking about this news made me wonder how my mother-in-law reacted so many years ago. I’m sure it was a tough time learning of his diagnosis. What I do know is that she always dealt with diabetes in a very matter-of-fact way. She didn’t let it affect my husband’s life but also didn’t under play it. She never let my husband feel sorry for himself and in turn gave him a very normal childhood. Putting myself in her shoes has made me think about what a strong woman she really was.
So, with my newfound love of winds and dragons and reading Steel’s predictable story lines, I’ve decided that unleashing my inner mother-in-law is actually a good thing. She was a stand-up good person who spoke her mind when she needed to (maybe sometimes more often).
I only wish I had taken the opportunity to tell her how much I truly respected her when I had the chance. Often she told me how proud she was of me and I wish I could tell her now how proud I am to call myself “Mrs. Reiber.”